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The castor bean plant, Ricinus communi, is used medicinally throughout the world.  The leaves, roots, and oil from the seeds of the plant have all been studied and found to have medicinal effects. One of the primary castor oil uses today involves the topical application of castor oil in the form of castor oil packs.
What is a Castor Oil Pack?
A castor oil pack is simply a cloth soaked in castor oil which is placed on the skin, often covered with a hot water bottle or heating pad. Castor oil packs are used in naturopathic medicine as a pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory aid as well as an aid in elimination and detoxification processes in the body.
Castor oil packs are often recommended for the treatment of uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, headaches, liver disorders (including hepatitis), abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, intestinal disorders, gallbladder inflammation or stones, night time urinary frequency, inflamed joints, and musculoskeletal pain. They are also recommended for use over the liver during detoxification protocols.
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Castor Oil Uses
I was personally introduced to castor oil packs as a first-year naturopathic medical student suffering from monthly menstrual cramps. My teachers recommended the topical application of castor oil and moist heat over my lower abdomen. After about 30 minutes, the castor oil pack had completely relieved my menstrual cramps and left me feeling relaxed.
After a few months of applying castor oil packs, making some minor dietary changes and taking some herbal and nutritional supplements, not only were my menstrual cramps completely gone, but so was my PMS.
During the next four years of medical school, I witnessed the power of castor oil packs not just for menstrual cramps, but for many other conditions involving pain and inflammation. These actions have been observed in studies, along with potent free radical scavenging effects and therapeutic effects on asthma, ulcers, liver diseases, and more. Castor oil uses also include induction of labor and contraception.Topical castor oil has been found to have excellent wound healing and skin conditioning effects.These medicinal actions are due to the important phytochemical constituents like flavonoids, saponins, glycosides, alkaloids and steroids, etc.
Research on Castor Oil Packs
Despite their widespread and long history of use, I could find only one published study examining the effects of castor oil packs. Elderly patients with chronic constipation who were administered castor oil packs experienced significant improvements in symptoms of constipation. The consistency of their bowel movements improved, straining decreased, and the feeling of complete evacuation after a bowel movement improved.
How to Make Your Own Castor Oil Pack to Ease Pain and Inflammation
- Take a clean, dry piece of cotton flannel cloth (about 20 to 40 inches long and 24 to 48 inches wide) and fold it so that it’s two to three layers thick and fits over most of your abdomen or other area of pain.
- Soak the flannel cloth in castor oil. Loosely wring out the excess oil.
- Lay down in a comfortable position. Place the castor oil pack directly on your abdomen or area of pain.
- Cover the pack with a sheet of plastic wrap to avoid staining.
- Place a hot water bottle, gel pack, or heating pad over the plastic wrap. You can place a towel between the heat source and the plastic wrap if you wish.
- Leave the castor oil pack on for 45 to 60 minutes. (It is fine to fall asleep with the castor oil pack on, as long as you are not using an electrical heating source.)
- When you are done, you can store the pack in a zip-lock bag in the refrigerator. The pack can be used repeatedly for several months, adding more castor oil as needed.
Castor Oil Pack Contraindications
Studies show that castor oil is safe for both internal and topical use when used appropriately. Castor oil is classified by the FDA as safe and effective for use as a stimulant laxative. Nevertheless, even the topical use of castor oil should be avoided during pregnancy and by people with bleeding disorders and active ulcers.
Take advantage of this simple, natural, and inexpensive home remedy today. Almost any kind of inflammation can benefit from the application of a castor oil pack.
Originally published in 2014, this post has been updated.